Neighborhood Private Schools Say Enrollment Is Going Up

By Sam Charles | Friday, October 5, 2012

St. Mattias Elementary School last winter. Credit: Mike Fourcher.

Given last month’s weeklong teachers strike within Chicago Public Schools, education in the city has had a spotlight shone on it not seen since the previous strike in 1987. With a high concentration of private and parochial schools in the area, local families have a great deal of choice beyond private schools.

Enrollment at several private schools in the area is holding strong, despite nationwide financial hardship and an unemployment rate in the city a full percentage point higher than the national average, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Their surroundings and schools’ unique curriculum philosophy are helping convince parents that private education is the route best suited for their children.

“Even with the economy as it is now, parents see the value of sending their kids here because of the level of involvement,” said Amanda Espitia, director of development and communications at North Park Elementary, 2017 W. Montrose Ave. “Teachers are really happy to be here.”

Espitia added that for the 2012-2013 school year, North Park received approximately 80 kindergarten admission applications. The school’s current enrollment is 228 students.

St. Benedict Elementary, located at 3920 N. Leavitt St., which enrolls students from kindergarten through their senior year of high school, has seen such an increase in the student body size that more classrooms per grade have been added. Currently the total enrollment stands at 850, according to Janet Olson, St. Benedict’s director of admissions for kindergarten through fifth grade.

“We attribute [the school’s enrollment] to families deciding to stay in the city and the neighborhood and choosing a Catholic education,” Olson said.

One strategy that both schools have employed is capping class sizes. At North Park, all classes are between 20 and 25 students, while St. Benedict allows no more than 21 students per class.

Administrators argue that the smaller class sizes translate to more individual attention toward each student, leading to more productive class time.

The freedom that comes with not being part of the public schools system has led St. Benedict to approach teaching some students differently than others. In third, fourth and fifth grade, reading assignments become more personalized for each student and more tailored to their individual reading level.

“As we’re developing readers, this approach gives students reading strategies and confidence,” Olson said.

Adding to the trend, last winter St. Matthias Elementary School announced it was adding an additional 1st grade classroom. As of last year, the school had grown by 42 percent since 2005. The Catholic institution has a current enrollment of 302 students according to GreatSchools.com.

St. Matthias administrators did not respond to additional requests for comment by publication.

For the 2012-2013 school year, North Park has set tuition at $9,400 per year for the first child enrolled in a family. Additional children enrolled result in a lower price. St. Benedict charges $5,675 for the first student/parishioner enrolled. Like North Park, the more students enrolled, the lower the cost for each. At St. Matthias, the cost for the first child is $5,750 with deductions for any more students enrolled.

North Park employs a strategy to take advantage of overlapping lessons in different classes and subjects.

“If students are taking Spanish class, we’ll try to include that when they learn Latin music in Music class,” Espitia said. “This helps with continuity and students aren’t as [sectioned] off as they’d normally be…Student have been really receptive.”

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